Two-year-old Freya from Townsville is quite the ballerina, off to the local studio each week, performing on stage at concerts and practising for exams with her older sister, Arianna.
“Freya has come out of her shell since she started ballet – she is incredibly reserved and it took a number of weeks before she would even attempt the classes,” Freya’s mum, Emily said.
At three months old, Freya was diagnosed with a mild hearing loss which professionals had hoped would remain steady, however by 12 months old her hearing loss had progressed.
“Freya initially wore a bone conduction hearing aid due to issues with fluid in her ear. When she was 13 months old and the fluid was improving, she was fitted with her first pair of hearing aids,” Emily said.
Finding out about Freya’s hearing loss and the experiences that followed felt like a rollercoaster of emotions for the family.
“Due to the floods some of our family were displaced, some were away and others were around children who were unwell, we didn’t have many family members able to visit when Freya was a newborn. We mostly kept the news she’d failed her hospital hearing screening to ourselves,” said Emily.
On the first newborn hearing screen Freya was referred on for further testing of her right ear.
“Freya had a second test and failed on both ears this time. We were still advised it was most likely fluid, however a failure on both ears could indicate a hearing loss.
“I remember feeling so hopeless and alone, my husband wasn’t able to visit as he was caring for our other children, so I was in hospital on my own trying to make sense of it all.
“Our first two children passed on the first test, so this was new for us. I had started to suspect Freya did have a hearing loss due to her nature – she was the most quiet baby, and apart from birth she only cried on one occasion during our hospital stay.”
The family met with an audiologist at the Townsville University Hospital when Freya was three months old for an ABR test to confirm if Freya had hearing loss.
“I can remember the room clearly, and black leather chair I sat in. It was a small room with a door that had a tiny window with a blind. It took two hours to do the test, and at the end the audiologist quietly said, ‘I’m sorry to say she has a hearing loss in both ears, worse in the right ear’,” Emily said.
“I remember looking at my husband and silently crying. It was the unknown of what we faced and what our daughter would face.
“My husband held me in the car park and we both cried. It was the one and only time he has ever cried about Freya – Matthew is the strong one.
“When our daughter Arianna was told she said, ‘she can share my room mum, when she is older, I can be her ears at night’.
When Freya was five months old she had specialist genetic testing to find the cause of her hearing loss, including a heel prick to test for cytomegalovirus (CMV).
“This was the first of many tests we would wait on. This was one of the hardest parts of our journey, waiting on results,” Emily said.
They were referred to an ENT for review of Freya’s ear canals to see if Freya had any malformation or structural issues with the ear canal, who then referred them to Hear and Say in Townsville for speech therapy and audiology services.
“We met with Amy from Hear and Say before Freya was 12 months old and had an initial consult, and when Freya was almost two we met Liza and started speech therapy sessions – Freya responded the best she ever had with the Hear and Say team,” Emily said.
“It was the first time we could complete a hearing test in one sitting. Liza and Lisa changed tactics when Freya became disinterested or distracted. It was for me, one of the best experiences.
“We have also noticed the difference it has made with Freya – she is a shy and reserved little girl. Freya would only speak to her family, and simply smile at anyone else or look away.
“Since coming to Hear and Say, Freya is talking with others – she is also communicating with her peers at day care, which she wasn’t able to do for quite some time.
“It has made such a remarkable difference and we don’t believe she would be where she is today without the regular speech therapy she does with Liza. It’s one of Freya’s highlights for the week.”
Hear and Say aims to empower parents to be their child’s speech and language teacher, arming them with the knowledge and tools they need.
“Liza has not only worked with Freya, but with our entire family. She has provided us with examples of ways to continue lessons at home and given us a plan and goals to work towards.
Reflecting on their experience over the last two years, Emily and Matthew wished they could tell themselves that there would be hard days, but there would also be joy – it would be okay.
“We are so thankful we live in Australia where we are supported through the National Disability Insurance Scheme [NDIS] and Hearing Australia to improve Freya’s life.
“She is incredibly blessed and has opened our lives to the deaf or hard of hearing community. We have met so many families through our journey and we are forever grateful for our Freya and her special ears.”
Emily and Matthew are also inspired when they of Freya’s future, she will be able to hear, listen and speak like her siblings Arianna, Mateo and Emelia.
“Our hope for Freya is to rise above anything she will experience in her life and show that she is more than her hearing loss, eye impairment, anything,” Emily said.
“We will be there to support her and help her achieve whatever it is she sets her sights on.”